The Heart of Vancouver Island – Nanaimo, BC

When we arrived at Living Forest Oceanside RV and Campground in Nanaimo, two local residents welcomed us to our site.  They kept us company during our entire stay, not because we were the most fun people to hang out with, but only for the unlimited birdseed we offered.  We settled in comfortably at our spacious forested site under tall trees with lots of privacy – loved it!

Enjoying spacious site #60

Nanaimo is the second-largest city on Vancouver Island (following Victoria), and it distinguishes itself with several nicknames including the Harbour City (must include the “u” up here), the Hub City and the Heart of the Island.  These are all due to its central location on the island.

Nanaimo is nestled between the Salish Sea and Mt. Benson, providing a plethora of water and inland activities.  It’s also located on the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nations people, who have called this place home since time immemorial.

With only three days to explore, our usual first stop was the visitor center.  Of the nine top things to do here, we managed to score only four since it wasn’t time yet for salmon spawning and we weren’t interested in some of the other activities like bungee jumping or snorkeling with the seals.

But we were interested in “The only floating pub in Canada”, and we just had to take the short ferry ride over to Protection Island to enjoy some good seafood and local craft beer:

The pub offered great views of Nanaimo Harbour and Mount Benson.  After a relaxing lunch we explored the tiny island that has no roads.  Boats are the only way to get here, and golf carts are the main land transportation.  Although we don’t mind roughing it a bit, this was beyond our comfort zone!

The floating Dinghy Dock Pub with Nanaimo across the bay and Mt. Benson in the distance
The equivalent of a resident’s parking lot in most places

Cruising back to Nanaimo, we observed the harbour teeming with activities – including several seaplanes, commercial fishing boats, and many other watercraft both personal and of the tourist type.

Steve really liked that one!

After docking we strolled along the harbour walkway and stopped several times to watch the boats and floatplanes:

I know what he’s thinking…
The pink among the red 🙂

We could have sat there and watched the energetic harbour atmosphere for hours.  We agreed Nanaimo is truly a harbour haven, but it somehow never looked overly touristy with everything running very orderly during this busy time of the year.

After a short drive north we followed a trail at Neck Point Park, a waterfront spot that happened to be at low tide during our visit.  Steve patiently searched for starfish in the crevasses and found several that had attached themselves to the rocky walls:

On this trail we stumbled onto several fairy doors (or gnome doors) at the base of some trees, similar to ones we’d seen a couple of weeks before:

He just had to look at the trinkets inside.  Oh good, no snakes…
Once again I couldn’t help myself, ripe juicy blackberries were everywhere!

When Steve gets a haircut in a new town he always asks the barber about the best places to eat and where to hike, since barbers are usually great sources for local information.  This time the suggestion was to consider hiking to the summit of Mt. Benson, the highest mountain in the area.  Our “All Trails” app rated it as difficult, but could it be as tough as some of the mountains we’ve tackled in Colorado?

Well, the rating was for real.  It was challenging, steep and mostly ascended straight up for 2.5 miles over rocks and roots!  It took us almost 5 hours to complete 5.2 miles, mostly under a forest canopy:

We followed the square orange blazes
So many roots, and not easy to negotiate…
…oh, and the rocks!

At the summit our reward was a hazy view across the Salish Sea to Vancouver and its mountain ranges.  The city of Nanaimo lay directly below us, while the inland view revealed beautiful wilderness and more nearby mountains:

This was definitely a strenuous trek for a nice look at Nanaimo
Made it, with a smile!

We headed back down after a much-needed energy snack, and thanks to my hiking poles my knees were saved from the perils of another steep descent.

Although we may have missed a few places to explore in and around Nanaimo, the whales were calling us from Telegraph Cove…




  1. That was quite the hike! It looks treacherous in spots, but you made it! Your pictures are amazingly wonderful. They truly bring the place alive for us readers.

  2. Pick those berries carefully! so many thorns, but worth it eh? Curious, ask that barber if he did that hike himself OK? You guys deserve a second glass of dark brew for getting to the top! What an ordeal, all those roots and rocks!

  3. Hope you enjoyed one of their namesake Nanaimo Bars for dessert! Maybe a little hard to find these days but definitely worth the calories!

  4. You know we love hiking, but I think we probably would’ve turned back on that one. I hope the barber’s haircutting skills were better than his hiking advice!

  5. My knees and ankles hurt just looking at that trail. Wow! That was nuts! Love all the float planes in the harbor. We took one of those many years ago from Seattle to the San Juan Islands. One of the coolest experiences ever!!

  6. Sweet area near the water. That hike looked insane – no view is worth that to me so I’m glad you showed it to us all! I love the picture of Steve looking at you through the beer glasses….such a lovely expression. Your site looked just about perfect to me, with your honeybunch and a nice bottle of wine to boot!

  7. ‘Chickadee-dee-dee!’ Thanks for feeding my little totem animals, LOL!! The little Chestnut-backed Chickadees remind me of our summers on Lopez Island. They love it in the Pacific Northwest!

    That hike looked crazy! I’m so glad you did it so that we don’t have to, hahaha! I know how it is sometimes, though, when you start a hike and keep thinking, “This has got to get better…”. And then you end up with so much time invested that you don’t want to turn back. I’m glad you at least got a great view for your efforts!

    • Exactly! I thought we would get a break somewhere at the mile mark, but no we just kept going up! It was a popular trail too, we met lots of runners and local hikers.

  8. So much color in this little town. I love how they paint in primary colors. Makes everything so cheery. Sounds like you enjoyed your short stay with your awesome site. Congrats on making it to the summit. I do believe we would have passed on this one. Thanks for sharing your view from the top!

  9. Nanaimo is such a cool place. I love it there (and most of Vancouver Island for that matter). Nanaimo is where I went bungee jumping and loved it. They have a place that used to be called Bungy Zone which was built by a New Zealand company. The bridge over the river was built specifically for bungee jumping. It was so much fun!

    That hike sounds like some portions of the Appalachian Trail, masses of roots and rocks. You are in such good shape.

    I love Nanaimo Bars! Every time we went to Vancouver Island, I had some. In fact, I even had a recipe for them. Don’t know if I still do.

    Did you go to Tofino? There’s a beautiful beach there. And Strathcona Provincial Park in the middle of the island is gorgeous.

    Nice blog!

Comments are closed.